Michael Sam, A Distraction? Please Commentator Frank Deford says the NFL is home to bullies, wife beaters, racists and, yes, some homophobes. But to suggest that one young gay man in the locker room would be too much for that bunch to stomach, he says, is "ludicrous."
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Michael Sam, A Distraction? Please

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Michael Sam, A Distraction? Please

Michael Sam, A Distraction? Please

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, for American football fans, the Winter Olympics are just that placeholder that keeps the television warm for part of the time between the Super Bowl and the NFL draft. It will be an intensely watched draft this year for a reason that makes some fans uncomfortable.

Here's our commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD: I hope I'm not a distraction this morning. Actually, I have issues with the way the concept of distraction is now employed. I have issues because we no longer want to admit that we have problems. Issues are the new problems. Distraction is the new cover-up. No matter how despicably someone may act, when they're caught, they do not apologize for actually being despicable. They only agree to go away so they won't become a distraction.

And now that Michael Sam, an NFL draft prospect, has announced that he is gay, there's been a lot of mumbling that he would be a distraction. Please. In this case, Commissioner Roger Goodell's minions - many of whom increasingly seem to be revealed to possess the sensitivity of mosquitoes - are employing the shield of distraction for really, what is an issue of antipathy.

What they're saying, in their coded language, is that too many players and fans would hate Michael Sam because he's gay, and the media will pounce on this; and that would be bad for the team and hence, for the NFL.

Now, even allowing for the fact that studies show that young Americans, in particular, are more tolerant of homosexuality, the whole idea is preposterous. We're talking here about NFL teams where bullies, wife-beaters, racists, bounty-hunters and other assorted ugly ruffians assemble. Some homophobes, too? Sure. But to suggest that in this company the presence of one young, gay man in the showers, that that would somehow be more than this motley crew could stomach, that's downright ludicrous.

Heavens to Betsy, to hear the pigskin chatter you would think an NFL locker room resembles a chapel where cloistered monks are gathered for vespers; that merely by his quiet presence, Michael Sam would rend this dear inner sanctum asunder.

And nasty fans? Maybe if it were baseball, where a player must stand alone at the plate; or in basketball, at the free-throw line. There, a gay athlete could be singled out for hateful chants. But in football? One nearly anonymous defender, hidden under a helmet, behind a facemask - fans will hardly even know that this subversive threat is out there on their team. The game is safe.

Sure, the media will beat the story to death. But we have it on the authority of no less than Rush Limbaugh that, quote, sports media are worse libs than the news media. So all the bleeding-heart football writers will be rooting for Michael Sam, like most people.

Anyway, by the third game of the season, everybody will have lost interest in him. And we'll be back to hearing about injuries and playoff chances, and all those poor old heterosexuals whose brains were damaged playing the game. Oh, those darn distractions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You hear the distracting comments of Frank Deford each Wednesday here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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